The need to nurture domestic talent
For the last 30 years, Dairyforce has been helping farmers to solve their
labour problems. Over that time we have seen huge changes. Herds have become
fewer in number but larger in size, yields have rocketed as management has
become more sophisticated and precise but one thing has remained constant -
successful herds need skilled, capable and committed people to manage them.
In the past these capable herdsmen who moved on to become herds managers
were drawn from the universities and county colleges where formal education
was complemented with practical experience. Alternatively there were a range
of apprenticeship schemes and day-release courses designed to equip people
to manage cows safely and profitably with due attention to welfare etc.
The problem we face now is that although the demand for quality staff is as
great, if not greater than before, the opportunities for young people to
enter the industry are declining through both fewer college places and a
dearth of apprenticeships and other schemes.
This is not a sustainable situation and is why, as an industry, we must show
greater commitment to, and support for those people who are prepared to
dedicate themselves to UK dairy farming.
I can understand why some people are tempted to say the future must wait. We
have to focus on surviving today. We have to cut our cloth accordingly and
devoting time to training new entrants is not a business essential.
However, I would argue that we have been through hard times before and we
will go through them again. Just consider two foot-and-mouth outbreaks and
the introduction of quotas. These all hit farms hard but as an industry we
Equally I hear the argument that we don't need to train and develop our own
staff. All we need to do is import jobs by recruiting staff from eastern
Europe and further afield. Not only do they appear experienced, but they are
cheaper. A good argument but for every success story based on this source of
labour, I can give several horror stories where claims made could not be
If you want an analogy of an industry where imported labour was seen as a
panacea only to be replaced with investment in home developed talent you
need look no further than professional football. A great many clubs invested
in dubious imports but have now sought to invest in soccer academies
instead. The short-term gain offered by looking abroad has been replaced
with a long-term strategy of nurturing homegrown talent.
If the estimates in the MDC dairy farm labour report are correct, there will
be a severe shortage of skilled staff to manage the increasingly complex
dairy herds. This issue needs to be addressed at an industry level with
strategies developed to increase the flow of new entrants and stem the tide
on those quitting the industry.
The UK is ideally set up for efficient milk production but a successful
industry will depend on a steady supply of highly skilled managers and
Recently the IOD launched a scathing attack on the Government, arguing that
more young people need to be encouraged to develop the skills required for
key trades such as plumbers and joiners. They should have added farmworkers
and managers to the list of crucial, highly skilled jobs where there is an
increasing shortfall. It is crucial that Defra commits to tackling this
problem and establishes an appropriate apprenticeship scheme supported by
formal education opportunities.
In the short term, farmers must review how they manage their staff to ensure
they keep the ones they have and can attract the best candidates to fill any
vacancies. We have to remember to treat good staff like gold dust because
they must be encouraged to remain in the industry rather than seeking
openings elsewhere. We need to look beyond the current issues facing the
industry and make sure we have the staff available to allow us to compete
We know there are individuals out there who want to be dairy farmers. Last
year's entrants for the Dairy Farmer of the Future included farmers' sons as
well as young people who harboured the dream of managing a dairy farm.
Provided these talented individuals are given the chance I see an
encouraging future for UK dairy farming. As an industry we have to decide if
we want to give them the chance.
As a business Dairyforce is delighted to be involved with the Dairy Farmer
of the Future, signalling in a small way, as it does, our support for those
people who represent the lifeblood of our industry.
To enter the Dairy Farmer of the Future 2004 competition visit
www.thefarmingdirectory.com or telephone 01332-541610 for an application
form. Applications close on January 31.